Memorial University buying Battery Hotel

Memorial University is buying the Battery Hotel in downtown St. John's, with plans to use it for office and working space, and possibly for student housing.

MUN plans to end off-campus leases; may use hotel to house grad students

Memorial University has emerged as the new owner of the Battery Hotel, pending final approval. (CBC)

Memorial University is buying the Battery Hotel in downtown St. John's for an undisclosed price, with plans to use it for office and working space, as well as student housing.

The university reported its tentative deal to buy the hotel from owner Rick Butler on Thursday, about a week after hotel staff were given layoff notices and told the building had been sold.

MUN president Gary Kachanoski said the purchase solves several problems, including cramped quarters at its buildings on the main campus, as well as a desire to stop paying for off-campus leases.

"We intend to move university units on the campus, who would move downtown or closer to downtown and fulfil their mandate better off campus than on campus," Kachanoski told CBC News.

"It'll be a bit of a shuffling of the deck, but ultimately it will result in significant new space that we can [use and] then stop leasing off-campus space as well."

As examples, Kachanoski said that units like the Harris Centre, which specializes in public policy and economic development, and the Gardiner Centre, a business-focused research centre, could be moved to The Battery.

"[The building] has residence possibilities, as well, that could be used for student residences," he said.

'That wonderful view'

The 128-room hotel also includes a conference centre, meeting rooms and two dining rooms — one of which has one of the best views of St. John's harbour.

Kachanoski said the university will "obviously make great use of that wonderful view, which we're very excited about as well."

He said the purchase price will be revealed once the formal sale goes through. He noted the hotel — which had been publicly listed for sale two years ago for $15 million — had been listed this summer for $10 million.

The sale is contingent on a final inspection, as well as approval of the Newfoundland and Labrador government, which funds the university.

Decisions on which parts of the university would be transferred to the new site will not be made for some time. Kachanoski said if the sale goes through as expected, "a detailed space planning exercise" will begin in January.

He said it's possible some units will move into the hotel within a year.

Battery owner Rick Butler said he was pleased with the pending sale.

"As a former professor at Memorial in the mid '70s, I'm particularly proud to see the Battery’s landmark property contribute significantly to making Memorial University’s campus one of the finest in all of Canada," Butler said in a news release issued by the university.

The Battery employs about 70 people, whose layoff notices would take effect in January.

Kachanoski said the university will not be keeping those employees.

"We won't be running a hotel," he said. "We're buying a property."